Lisa Kelly: From tomboy to celebrity trucker

by Abdul Latheef

Lisa Kelly in Dallas
Lisa Kelly at the Great American Truck Show in Dallas, Texas, in August.

DALLAS, Texas – In an episode of Ice Road Truckers, Lisa Kelly jumps off her moving 22-wheeler to save herself as the ice begins to splinter on a remote Alaskan highway.

That is the only way truckers can make a quick escape in such harsh conditions on roads where the maximum posted speed is 10 km/h with no stopping allowed.

Although that is reality TV, real trucking life in the wilderness of Alaska is not much different.

In fact, according to Kelly, 38, what she does on the show “is real life.”

That is exactly why she likes her job, a job she has been enjoying for the past 15 years.

“I love trucks,” she summed up her passion for trucking in three words in an interview at last month’s Great American Truck Show (GATS) in Dallas, Texas.

Lisa Kelly on the Delo flyer.

Kelly was there as the brand ambassador of Delo, a line of heavy-duty engine oils developed by the lubricants giant Chevron Products Co.

A longtime user of the product, she signed Delo flyers for fans at the show.

“When I open my toolbox door, it’s always Delo,” Kelly says in a Chevron commercial.

She has been working for Chevron for about three years, and she says she goes wherever the company needs her to go.

“Mostly GATS and MATS (the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky).”

Kelly was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., but raised on a small farm in Sterling, Alaska, about 220 kilometers southwest of Anchorage.

She was a bit of tomboy with a can-do attitude, and “really liked getting out of the building and driving around town.”

Kelly drove a delivery van and a school bus before realizing her dream of “driving a big truck someday,” according to a bio posted on her website.

The trucker’s job also catapulted her to stardom and fame.

On History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers, simply called IRT, she and five male drivers ferry freight on big rigs through Alaska’s frozen lakes and rivers. The show premiered in 2007, and the 11th season aired in late 2017.

She also starred in the IRT spinoff IRT Deadliest Roads. A few episodes of that show were filmed in some of the deadliest roads in India, Bolivia and Peru. In one, shot in the Indian Himalayas, Kelly hauls supplies through “pretty wild” roads.

“(It was) unlike anything I have ever experienced,” she said.

Image courtesy: Lisa Kelly

Kelly is the biggest and most popular star of the IRT. She was once called “the sexiest trucker alive” by the men’s magazine Esquire.

She has more 600,000 followers on Facebook and 66,000 on Twitter, but fame doesn’t affect her work as a trucker.

Kelly works and lives in the truck for a couple of months before taking a break and going home to Wasilla, Alaska. One time, she said, she was able to go home only after three or four months.

“I have a very understanding husband,” she said, giggling.

“He gives me the freedom to go away for so many months, and it is amazing.”

An avid dirt biker, Kelly met her future husband Traves Kelly while buying a Kawasaki 125 motorcycle in 2004. They married four years later.

“He was motorcycle mechanic. He is a plumber now. It’s a weird life,” Kelly said.

She said her best experience as a truck driver was the “cool places” she was able to go.

Kelly is aware of the fact that not many women are working in the trucking industry, but she thinks it is changing.

“Feels like it’s been going up, a lot.”

She said many people watching the TV show or meeting her at trade shows often comment that she doesn’t look like a truck driver.

“Stereotypical ones. You don’t have to fit a stereotype. You can just do whatever you like.”

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  • Lisa,
    I am a woman truck driver and it’s a hard life for women…we get a bad rap for no reason. I have been through 6 companies already…BAD EXPERIENCES…WHERE IS THE LOVE FOR WOMEN TRUCKERS…

  • Ice Road Truckers is a Canadian production, with drivers from the US and Canada driving the winter ice roads from Alaska to Ontario, with the series being focused on runs out of Winnipeg into northern Manitoba and Ontario in later years.

  • Jumping from her truck as it breaks through ice. Really? You guys print this crap like it’s real, gimme a break. It’s television folks, doesn’t happen in real life.

    • Agreed. It was a staged event. Sure, it happens occasionally but this one was part of the show.
      One way or other, the show paid for that truck. A girl that pretty needs to be down south anyway.
      You know, boys like Dem Daisy Dukes!!!!

  • While I like Lisa Kelly, I’m afraid she is many years behind in her thinking. I started driving trucks in 1973. That’s when very few women were out there. I did it over 20 years OTR and about 16 years hauling steel locally. So Lisa, you need to be proud of yourself. But remember, I was among the pioneers in women in trucking.

  • I HAVE OVER 33YEARS OTR.I HAULED PROUDUCE FROM CALIFORNIA TO FLORIDA 4 TIME AWEEK.FOR ONE OF TOUGEST TRUCKING COMPANIES IN LA.YOU HAD A FAST PETERBILT AND YOU HAD TOO DOCTOR YOUR LOGBOOK TOO KEEP DRIVING THRU YOUR 8 OUR BREAK BACK IN THE 1990’S THAT IS HOW YOUR TRUCKED.YOU AVERAGED A 800 TO A 1000 MILES A DAY OR YOU LOST YOUR JOB.I AM PROUD OF MY TRUCKING HISTORY AND I KNEW SOME OF THE BEST RUNNING TRUCKERS ON THE ROAD AND IM PROUD TOO HAVE SURVIVED THE 16 YEARS I RAN THE WESTCOAST.I AM GLAD THAT TIMES CHANGED FOR THE SAFTY FOR HARD WORKING TRUCKERS MEN AND WOMEN CAUSE HAULING CHICKENS TO CALIFORNIA TO BREAK PRODUCE WAS A HARD JOB AND A LOT OF COMPANIES GOT RICH OFF OF A LOT OF TRUCKERS BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS..IM RETIRED NOW AND I’M WRITING MY FIRST NOVEL ABOUT THE HARDSHIPS AND TRIALS OF SOME OF AMERICA’S TOUGHEST OUTLAW TRUCKERS.

      • You must never have driven a semi. Before electronic logs companies would actually fire you if you didn’t drive the number of hours you needed to. Or actually for not getting g where they thought you should be.
        Yes dude they would fire you for not getting g the hours they thought you should. Maybe you’ve never had a family that you’ve had to take care of??!!

  • I’ve done some ice roads and driving big trucks for 42 years and I’m embarrassed by these wana be star truck drivers. I’ve never beat by truck the way these TV truckers do. You ever notice how Todd always has his cb Mike in his hand and there is no other drivers for miles to be found. The man is an idiot. I watched a couple shows and decided I’d rather watch the price is rite. I’m sorry but just trash.

  • I’m very proud of more women getting into our trade. But I wish people would stop acting like women have it tougher as a Trucker. That’s the true stereotype in my opinion. Both women and men alike have it tough and treated like dummies until you earn your place and that’s in all trades. It’s just fewer women have what it takes to stick it out in trucking especially outside of the dry (Lazy Man) van lines. Those women who make it actually get more respect than men. You’ll know when you see those women if you pay attention.

    BTW, I’ve seen Ice Road Truckers, and that episode is over-dramatized.

  • I’ve been trucking since 2005 before I had my cdl i driven in military my friends that I know who are women drivers they do a great job and I’d say lisa is great driver I watched the ice road truckers and the men do great job too great job lisa keep on trucking

  • I’ve held my CDL A for 24 years with a clean driving record, I’m proud to say. I haul the permited loads, mostly low bed. We most certainly do get a bad wrap especially if you have any looks to you. I agree, the show is over dramatized. I also have to say that in the one episode where Lisa missed a gear and didnt make the hill (nice job backing down) it made me wonder why she wouldn’t of downshifted before the hill as she did the second time. I run the mountains, I would of thought with all her experience she would know that. And yep, we all miss a gear every now and again. I give you credit Lisa for being tough, I’d love to run those roads.